STAFF REVIEW of Vesta (Xbox One)

Thursday, February 22, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Vesta Box art As we learned from those children’s books with covers that show folks of all different skin colors holding hands around a miniature planet Earth, people come in all different shapes, sizes, and forms that you can imagine. These books are meant to convey the very important message that despite appearance, we are all equal, and all want to be treated with respect and love. I agree of course, but seven year old me couldn’t shake the terrible notion there were people so large they could breathe in space and topple the largest building in the world with a sneeze. No handshake of tolerance is worth the millions of lives lost by stepping on a city. Of course as we grow older we build opinions and biases based on our own experiences. In most cases these are unfair and require understanding and reason to overcome. Still, there is one group of people I have difficulty with. These people are so invasive and intrusive to my way of life that I can’t help but lash out if they approach me against my will.

Morning people. Go-getters. I hate them. I hate all of them. They wake up all cheerful and full of energy and are prepared to take on the day without a single sniff of coffee or the minimum required three hours of charge up time before speaking to other humans. They treat life like one big puzzle to be solved. Puzzles are fine, but I prefer to approach mine enclosed in a box on a rolly chair wearing the fuzziest socks modern technology can offer.

Much like life, video games offer puzzles to be solved. Some games embrace this idea to such a degree that there is nothing else to the game. We call these gamles Puzzle Games and they are for people that like to use their brains. I like to use my brain sometimes when it is demanded of me, but more often than not I need to take cool down breaks lest I overheat like any Covenant weapon in Halo. Vesta is one such puzzle game, and while it would be ever so slightly inaccurate to call it a “pure” puzzle game like Tetris, or even Sudoku, all progress made in Vesta is done so by solving puzzles, so strap on your thinking pants.

I think what best differentiates puzzle games by quality are their setting and their aim. While some try to replicate the experience of jotting down lines on a piece of paper for ten times the cost, others try to tell a story. In Vesta, telling a story is very much the case. The game opens up with a cut scene, done in the style of a comic book, of a girl waking up from a presumably long slumber in the middle of a garden. Immediately she is met by a floating computer monitor, creatively named BOT, who reminds her of the task at hand, and sends her about her business in the robotics facility surrounding the garden.
Your aim, as was earlier stated in the “important” category, is to climb out of the facility floor by floor until you reach the top. That’s right; you’re roughly one-hundred and fifty floors below the surface of the planet. Oh, did I mention that you’re also the only human in the joint. Wait, there is more. The place is also filled with super hostile robots that want to kill you. Why? Well if you want the story you’ll have to play the game and interact with the miscellaneous computer terminals sprinkled throughout the compound to find out. I can’t tell you, that would be spoiling.

Early on you’ll meet and befriend the greatest tool you have at your disposal in Vesta; your robot companion. Yes, robot companion. The main hook to Vesta’s gameplay is your ability to swap between your two characters at any time. Each of your two characters have unique abilities which, when used properly, will see you to the end of each floor safely. Vesta herself is equipped with a backpack which allows her to absorb and distribute power to and from receptacles which energize the facility around her. Power is a limited resource in the facility and must be used wisely. Up to three charges can be kept at a time. Vesta can also dash forward a short distance, a good use of which is to evade certain death from enemy attacks. Vesta can’t take any hits from enemy robots because she’s made of squishy flesh and dies easily. Her robot pal however is made of sterner stuff and has three points of health, so a smack or two won’t take you down immediately. He is also equipped with missiles to stun enemy robots, and can pick Vesta up to throw her across gaps. Combining their abilities is the only way to defeat enemies by first stunning them with missiles, and then draining them of power with Vestas backpack.

The name of the game, in general, is to manage the aforementioned power in a way that gets you to the end. This means taking power away from places that don’t need it anymore, such as sections of the level that have already been solved or traveled through. That also means taking the opportunity to slay enemy robots where ever you can as they are a valuable source of power. In most cases, an enemy robot means that there is a place in your near future that’s going to need power that you don’t have yet.

All the things you would expect to see in an underground compound over run with evil robots are present. Locked doors, check. Stopped conveyor belts, check check. Pits of acid, check check check. Floating platforms that move back and forth across chasms of certain doom, check-a-roonie. The puzzle design in Vesta is done quite well and feels very rewarding when completed. The in-between, the solving of the puzzles, however, was a little gear grinding at times. Particularly long levels offer check points which is absolutely welcome, but even some of the shorter levels felt longer in practice due to the layout and tasks required.

These levels felt particularly bad when their difficulty ramps up at the end, killing you and causing you to restart the whole thing. Of course in games there must be punishment for failure and how else better to do it in a puzzle game than to make you restart the whole mission? The issue was not in the punishment, but the death. Some of the commands in Vesta feel slower and more methodical as they should in a puzzle game, but there are also instances of semi-combat scenarios that demand quicker responses than you are capable of or prepared for. Translation: dying feels cheap most of the time.

Vesta is presented in a top-down isometric format. This is a personal favorite of mine that harkens back to all of the best RPG’s of old like Mario RPG, Harvest Moon, and Final Fantasy Tactics. Top-down isometrics have got warm feelings on the inside for days. This view style however doesn’t lend itself to the puzzle genre. Even in those old classics, and the puzzles they presented, it was hard to gauge distance and height to far away platforms. Vesta suffers from this in some capacity having caused many a perspective based death throughout my play time. Most all of the game is kept on a level playing field, which is of good design in my mind as it reduces excessive and unnecessary environment based failure, or as I like to call it, the “Oh come ooooooooooon” effect. This view style also makes aiming robo-buddy’s missile attack tricky at the best of times. With enough practice, all of these conundrums can be overcome, but they may leave a bitter taste in a new player’s mouth., like chewed up Tylenol caplets bitter.

I’m a sucker for a pretty face, which is why I cry every morning when I look into the mirror. But it’s also why Vesta’s art style is my favorite element to the game. It’s blocky and chunky, but small and cute in an almost chibi kind of way. The compound looks properly rundown and gives off an amazing atmosphere. Though the general tile kit stays the same pretty much the whole way through, each level is distinct enough in design for that not to matter. Each enemy robot type has a unique silhouette and style of movement so you know exactly what you are up against before it becomes too much of a problem, and key points of importance in each level stand out, as they should. Vesta only features one audio track of importance as it plays in the background of every level. It’s a good piece and doesn’t wear over time. In fact, even after the umpteenth level I found myself still humming along to it.

If it wasn’t obvious from my subtle hints and unique way of sewing words into sentences, puzzle games aren’t my favorite thing in the world. Vesta did a good job though, and kept me entertained throughout my adventure. There were growing pains to be had; the controls felt sluggish at times, the the view style led to more deaths than I care to announce, and many times I had to step away in frustration, but it was presented in a fun way that kept me going. The characters are good, and the atmosphere is even better, but most importantly the puzzles are great. If you’ve got a few bucks lying around, and an itch for some sci-fi escapism, then Vesta is a good choice for you.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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